Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Friday, September 05, 2008

Let Us All Press On Scattering Sunshine

by Kerry Blair

Fan mail makes me cry.

For years, the tears have been of gratitude and disbelief. Somebody liked one of my books? Really? It has always been easier for me to endure bad reviews—and get helpful notes that point out eight adverbs on a single page—than it has been to believe the good ones. It’s no surprise, then, that I’ve kept every positive stroke I’ve ever received. Since the release of Counting Blessings, my mail has increased ten-fold and the tears have increased many times that. But now I mostly weep because so many of the letters break my heart.

In the last weeks alone I have heard from a young mother with incurable cancer, an elementary school teacher who thinks of suicide, an abused teenager, and an elderly woman who fears dying alone. That these women reach out to me—a stranger—is touching, humbling, and absolutely terrifying. By the end of their letters I love them like sisters, never mind that we have never met. Often I must kneel at my computer chair before I can respond. More than once I’ve fasted, pleading for words of comfort, desperate to offer sound counsel when my poor advice has been sought.

If my in-box is any indication, life is tough all over. I’ve struggled myself lately with a surgery and ongoing infection. The merest threat this week of further chemo left me weary, weepy . . . overwhelmed. Since the cancer was diagnosed I have been trying to press on for all I am worth, scattering sunshine like a veritable maniac. And yet all around me people suffer. Sometimes they die. There is a point to all this, I know, but it is too often hard to see through tear-filled eyes.

I went to bed last night weighed down by the stories of struggle and hardship and pain and anguish and hopelessness we all encounter on a daily basis. Despite the heat, I pulled the sheet over my head and decided I’d never get up again. Ever. (If I chose to live past morning, the pit bull could bring me food; she knows where we keep the Ritz crackers and bottled water and is not above helping herself in a pinch.) I’d had it. No more trying to bear another’s burdens. A pox on compassionate service. The heart-rending mail could go unanswered and somebody else could arrange the funerals. Wasn’t my shoulder blistered from wheel-pushing? Hadn’t anybody noticed that where He seemed to want me to go was mostly around in circles? Quite obviously, I murmured to the cat, whoever wrote that song with “all is well” in every refrain had been out in the sun too long. Without his hat. All is not well in Zion and I would have defied anybody to prove otherwise.

I am no Lehi--if this is not already apparent, it soon will be--but I did dream. Being a lifelong Scouter, I dreamt I was with a group of family, friends, Cub Scouts and strangers, about to embark on a very long hike. An incredible man stood to introduce the guides and present the route. Everybody loved him for his goodness and admired him because he knew the way better than anybody else anywhere—he’d forged the paths, in fact. He explained that there were three places one could stop to camp and he himself would meet us at each site. One more simple instruction followed. Unlike a recent day camp, the guidelines for this excursion were not long, nor complicated, nor rigorous. All the instruction there was was contained in just four words. Ever prepared, I pulled out a pencil, scribbled on a scrap of paper, and tucked the counsel next to my compass and official Cub Scout knife.

We were off and it was marvelous fun! The morning was sunny but cool, and the terrain was easily traversed. Sure, there were rocks to climb and streams to cross, but they only added to the adventure. Before we knew it we were at the first campsite. I fear I lack creativity, even in my dreams, because the spot was the place in the Dells where I recently took my Cubs fishing—right down to the bright blue sky, gorgeous red rock formations, and natural lake that would give temple reflecting pools a run for their money. It was tempting to set up camp there. A few people did. I couldn’t imagine anyplace nicer, really, but fingering the note in my pocket, I soon gathered up my Cubs and pressed on with almost everybody I knew.

It was afternoon now and the sunny day had turned hot. The ground was not as level and the path was not as smooth. Almost everybody stumbled. Grumbled. Groused. As skinned knees, twisted ankles, and painful sunburns became the norm, some of our group turned back to the lovely site we’d left behind. I didn’t blame them. Perhaps I even wanted to follow. But, hey, we were Scouts—and there was still the instruction to consider. I kept hiking, helping the boys as I could and often being helped myself.

We made the next camp by evening—bruised, maybe even a little broken—but triumphant and happy to have arrived. This mountain meadow had all the first site’s beauty a hundred times over. I was all for pitching a tent, making s’mores, and staying forever. I’d just rolled out my sleeping bag when the beloved man’s instructions fell from my pocket. I read the four words then looked around. Some of my loved ones had already started up the next path. Some were clearly staying put. A guide urged me to decide—stay, go—but commit one way or the other. Since the Cub motto is “Do your best” and the best was clearly yet to come, I rolled up my bag, grabbed the hand of the nearest Wolf, and ran to catch up.

It wasn’t fun anymore. For one thing, it was nightfall. The guides’ flashlights always worked, but mine only worked sometimes. Mostly I stumbled in the dark, banging into things. Painful things. More than once I lost my way and had to search for a guide’s pinprick of light in the distance. The path wasn’t hard now, it was impossible. (In college I hiked down the Grand Canyon. Unfortunately, since what goes down must come up, I also hiked the other way, ruing every awful step. This was deja vu.) I was tired, sore, sorry that I hadn’t stayed at the beautiful campsite farther down the mountain and . . . frightened. Mostly I was frightened. Even if I could keep putting one foot in front of the other, which was doubtful, there were terrifying drop-offs to my left. While there was a railing drilled into the mountainside to my right, my palm was so sweaty it kept slipping off. Worse, there were too many people looking to me when I couldn’t see the way myself. Worst, they were hurting and I didn’t have anything in my meager first aid kit that could help. Many, many people turned back now. I didn’t want to go back, but I couldn’t go forward.

I sat down.

It was then the instructions appeared in my hand. Under the starlight I re-read the four simple words: Endure to the end. Not: Enjoy the stroll, but be sure to quit before it gets tough. Not: Give it your best shot, that’s all anybody can expect from you. Not even: Keep going until you can’t stand it a moment longer. He’d said: Endure to the end. Since I wasn’t dead and I wasn’t at the highest campsite, this must not be the end. Even if I didn’t believe I could bear the journey a moment longer, let alone make it the whole way, apparently I could.

I got up.

If I were Lehi, I’d have made it to a tree-filled campsite, partaken of delicious fruit, and told you all about it. If I were Paul, I’d be able to assure you that “eye hath not seen nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” But the truth is, I didn’t dream the end. Another truth is that what I did dream was so vivid, and the feelings associated with it so intense, that it was victory enough to have been standing—shaking, exhausted, still terrified but standing—when I awoke.

I got out of bed this morning and rummaged around in the closet for shoulder pads and a canvas tote. A little later in the day I will take my bag outside to refill it with sunshine—all it can hold. Perhaps Brother Clayton was not as addled as I’d supposed. While all is certainly not right with the world, at least not all the time, God is yet in His heaven and all is well in the grand scheme of things. That the end is not yet is not a trial. It is a blessing . . . an opportunity . . . a sacred responsibility.

Perhaps I can press on, after all. I will keep trying at least . . . if you will.


At 9/05/2008 11:32 AM, Blogger Karlene said...

That is the most beautiful and inspiring non-scriptural thing I've read in a long, long time. Although, sometimes I believe our dreams are indeed scripture to us.

Thank you so much for sharing. We're in this together--one tortureous step at a time--and occasionally, we get to see something wonderful, like this post.

At 9/05/2008 11:42 AM, Blogger Janice said...

That was amazing. Thank you Kerry.

At 9/05/2008 11:53 AM, Blogger J Scott Savage said...

You know what this means, Kerry. You have at least one more book to write filled with wisdom like this. And since you didn't get to finish your dream, let me tell you what happens at the last campground.

You get there just as the sun is rising in a clear beautiful blue sky. As you reach the end of the trail, you think it must be at the edge of a great river because of the sound.

Then as you cup your hand to your eyes, you see the the sound is actually coming from all the people whose lives you have touched pushing forward to welcome you. All the weariness disappears from your body and your pains are gone. Hope you don't mind putting off sleep for a while, because there are a whole bunch of people who want to tell you thanks. I'm somewhere in that crowd.

At 9/05/2008 12:22 PM, Blogger Just_Me said...


You have such lovely and encouraging dreams. :o)

And I think you need some good news:
1) My friend who has struggled with Crohn's disease since childhood is healthy and expecting her first child with her wonderful husband. They announced yesterday it's a girl!

2) Some good friends sent us pictures of their son in suit and name tag in the MTC. He's a great kid and we're excited for him.

3)My friend who was widowed the same week she found she had cancer and the day before her 1 year old son went in for extensive surgery is healthy, happy, and just found a wonderful new job. Her son is also healthy and she knows her husband is resting peacefully.

See! There is good in the world! Come on over sometime, I'm making pots of homemade-from-scratch spaghetti and I'm thinking of trying to make a pear and apple pie with cookie crust (cookie dough as a crust- sounds easy right?).

It'll be good. You can veg on the couch while the kids play and I'll feed you. We'll have fun!

At 9/05/2008 12:43 PM, Blogger Kimberly said...

I agree with Scott. Sounds like you have a whole lot more sunshine to scatter. This was beautiful and inspiring. Thanks so much for the honesty of this.

At 9/05/2008 12:43 PM, Blogger Jennie said...

Kerry, as usual, your words touched me. However, I can't help thinking that only the woman who responded to her doctor's advice to rest for a few days by considering a short sojourn on the couch while her cub scouts tore through her house on the latest adventure you devised for them following doctor's orders, then would include a dozen hyperactive little boys in your dream. It makes me wonder if there's one special little boy in your pack with a mission in his future that needs a one-of-a-kind spiritual leader to prepare him. Kerry, it really is all right to rest and leave the hard stuff to someone else for a time. I know you'll respond to my advice with a quote that goes something like this, "don't weary of well-doing." But there are a lot of us who think your body has taken a terrible beating in recent years and want you to give yourself a chance to receover so you won't be taking that long rest for many years.

At 9/05/2008 12:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If our dreams are conduits from our subconscious, then I hope you take your dream to heart. You have a long way to go on our sometimes arduous, but wonderful journey on this plane. And I feel so very blessed to have crossed your path, Kerry.


At 9/05/2008 1:14 PM, Blogger Pat said...

...And posts like this make me cry.

I wish I had something brilliant, uplifting and comforting to say, but unfortunately, my brain doesn't work that way.
So, instead let me just say "Amen" to everything Jennie said, and add that I think every day how amazing you are (though I forget to tell you that just as often...)
I am awed by your huge capacity for love, compassion, and excellence.

May it find it's way back to you ten fold!

At 9/05/2008 1:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tears have been close every since I first read your blog. Other than the scriptures and your blog on family history, there has only been one other article that has touched me like this. Dreams must me my thing because the article was the recollection of a dream by Melvin J. Ballard (I'm quite sure) in which he was in the temple when a worker escorted him to a room where he saw our Savior. He fell to His feet and when he looked up, our Savior was smiling at him. He said he would never forget the joy that filled his heart. That is the other thing that awaits you on the top of the mountain, dear lady.

You are such an example of love for your fellowmen and devotion to our Savior. Truly you "mourn with those who mourn" and you will receive all the blessings merited by that.

Thank you for your example and your courage.


At 9/05/2008 1:29 PM, Blogger Keri Brooks said...

Thanks for sharing this. I needed to hear it today.

At 9/05/2008 3:23 PM, Blogger Cheri J. Crane said...

Kerry, you are a mountain climber. Always have been, always will be. ;)

I echo what J. Scott and Jennie have already stated. There will be so many people waiting to thank you for the example you have set, including me.

Thank you for sharing this dream today. It was a needed boost. You are amazing, my friend. Je t'aime.

At 9/05/2008 6:04 PM, Blogger The Rejection Queen said...

I will probably will never see fan mail in my lifetime...You are lucky

At 9/05/2008 6:32 PM, Blogger Jon Spell said...

I heart Kerry!

At 9/06/2008 1:44 AM, Blogger Lucy Eliza said...

Kerry, I love you so much! Thank you so much for sharing your inspiring dream and for all the other wonderful things you do! You are truly my hero.

At 9/06/2008 11:03 AM, Blogger Melanie Goldmund said...

Posts like this make me want to cry, too, partly because they are so beautiful, awesome, and inspiring -- and partly because I am jealous that I don't have cool dreams like that. *sigh*

At 9/06/2008 11:50 AM, Blogger Sariah S. Wilson said...

Dearest Kerry, in case I don't say it often enough, I adore you.

At 9/06/2008 12:09 PM, Blogger Danyelle Ferguson said...

Kerry - Thank you so much. That was exactly what I needed. I've bounced back and forth between some medical stuff these last few months and am finally close to a conclusion (or at least a clear diagnosis). It's been a struggle to stay on track and be cheery about it. Thank you for spurring me on. I'll keep you in my prayers.

At 9/06/2008 5:56 PM, Blogger lachish said...

Kerry, you are wonderful. May your dreams never stop. I hope we all can deal with our own trials with the same dignity and faith that you are.

Some of my favorite verses about trials come from 1 Peter 4:12-19. Here are the first two verses:

12 Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you:
13 But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy.

His trials provided Him eternal and infinite, compassionate empathy. He feels what we feel. Our trials purify us. The fire is real. We will come forth shining.

Thank you for writing one of the best written reflections on trials I have ever read.


At 9/06/2008 6:09 PM, Blogger Tristi Pinkston said...

Kerry, you sweet, beautiful, wonderful woman,

Do you have any idea how very much we all love and admire you? I can't even imagine how I got along before I met you -- you are a bright ray that cuts through the gray foggy gloom the world likes to kick up.

We'll all keep going together. It won't be so hard if we hold hands.

At 9/07/2008 12:26 AM, Blogger Kerry Blair said...

There's so much I want to say, but my eyes are too bleary and my heart is over-full after reading these comments.

Many of you expressed the thoughts of my heart ever so much better than I could. Forgive me for being a little self-indulgent and whiny. I am so very blessed and I truly do know it. Unfortunately, ever so often I need a brick applied to the side of my head to get my attention and remind me to straighten up. Thank you for letting me share the impact of this one. I'm better now. I really am. (Better because of all of you, mostly.)

I heart you all so very much! And let's DO hold hands! (That's exactly the kind of ending I searched my mind for and never found. Thank you, Tristi! I'll call you next week to finish my blog for me!)

At 9/08/2008 2:03 AM, Blogger Terry said...

I came over to see what my favorite authors were writing about. I've been touched and inspired! Thank you all for sharing.
I saw a video called, advice from Elder Buche on Youtube that talks about hope during trials today. It has been a theme that has been repeated all day for me, along with feeling the love of the Savior.

At 9/12/2008 1:01 AM, Anonymous Cecily Markland said...

Kerry, you're amazing...truly! Thanks for touching my heart tonight and sending me to my knees in gratitude for a friend like you who has the courage to press on and, in the process, reminds me to do the same!


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